NAACP meeting with official who wrote ‘racist pig’ post turns raucous

A meeting intended to serve as a bridge-building discussion between Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter and the local chapter of the NAACP ended abruptly Tuesday night as it devolved into shouts, protests and infighting among the group’s members.

Hunter left after about 30 minutes, halfway through the scheduled hourlong forum. The turmoil stood in stark contrast to Hunter’s visit earlier in the day to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Hunter, who has apologized for the "choice of words" in his now infamous Facebook post calling civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig," accepted last month the invitation to speak with the Gwinnett NAACP. Members of that organization billed it beforehand as a "moderated discussion."

But the gathering in the jury assembly room of the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center quickly erupted into shouting.

As NAACP President Marlyn Tillman read questions submitted by constituents, several branch members stood alongside the podium where she and Hunter were speaking. They held signs urging Hunter to resign and shouted as he calmly attempted to answer questions. They said they didn’t want to hear from Hunter, took issue with the questions he was being asked and claimed his appearance at the meeting was not vetted with the NAACP’s membership.

About 30 minutes in, Seth Weathers, a consultant who has acted as Hunter’s spokesman, ushered his client out of the room.

“Tommy accepted the invitation from the NAACP, and he accepted that in good faith that they would have a conversation, which is what they billed this as,” Weathers said later. “They turned it into an out-of-control protest and they wouldn’t let him speak, they were shouting down their own leaders.”

Tillman, who took over her role Jan. 1, was equally distraught.

“I think that people don’t understand how to leverage opportunities as best possible,” she said in the aftermath of Hunter’s departure.

The first part of Hunter’s Valentine’s Day was decidedly more peaceful, as he joined his fellow board members and other Gwinnett officials for a lunchtime tour of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. He appeared to look intently at exhibits — some which honored Lewis’ legacy — during the guided two-hour visit.

He declined to speak with reporters afterward.

Board Chairman Charlotte Nash did speak at the museum, but downplayed any special significance of the timing of the visit, which was the product of an invitation from the center itself. The museum has not said if the invitation was a direct result of Hunter’s comments.

“I think it was important under any circumstance,” Nash said.

Hunter wrote his controversial Facebook post on Jan. 14, amid a well-publicized feud between Lewis and then-president-elect Donald Trump, sparked when Lewis called Trump's presidency "illegitimate." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published screenshots of Hunter's post — in which he also referred to Democrats as "Demonrats" and a "bunch of idiots" — two days after it was written.

The outcry gained momentum quickly. Protesters have packed the three Board of Commissioners meetings that have taken place since, speaking against Hunter for hours during public comment periods. Multiple groups, including the Georgia NAACP and the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, have called for Hunter to resign. An ethics complaint filed last week claims Hunter violated several parts of the county's ethics ordinance.

Hunter has repeatedly said he won’t leave his post.

North of 50 people gathered for the Gwinnett NAACP meeting Tuesday night, and it was tense from the get-go — mostly due to infighting among the organization’s members over Hunter’s presence.

The commissioner answered about five questions before he left. Most of his replies were muffled by the shouts of protesters, but his opening remarks were mostly audible.

“When we got elected, we worked hard making sure that the entire county was heard, the entire county was understood, the entire county was taken seriously,” he said. ” … It hurts that we’re in a situation now where some people feel, I don’t know what the word is. Slighted maybe.”